I love the sense of perspective in Bethany’s story (below). She is totally and completely spot-on – no matter how traumatic your feeding experience may be, time will pass. New memories will form, new challenges will arise, and this small time – these few weeks, these months, this year – won’t be measured in ounces.You won’t remember how much milk you made, or what you managed to feed her, but rather the fact that her eyelashes brush her cheeks; that his eyes light up when you walk in the room; that she “dances” every time Shake it Off comes on the radio.
Until then, keep reading. You’re not alone.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
Tonight my husband and I enjoyed an impromptu date at the local pub which at 5:45 was completely overrun by babies and kiddos. A 7 week old newborn at the next table enchanted our 10 month old daughter. As she babbled and nibbled on a zucchini spear my husband told me that recently he had a “flashback” to the time when we fed our daughter using tiny tubes, syringes and newborn formula. “Doesn’t it seem surreal now?” he asked. “Yes! “ I replied. “And, um, kind of ridiculous, right?”.
I came home and read this weeks “Fearless Formula Feeder” which closely mirrored my own experience. Except for the fact that the author was writing as she was letting her milk dry up, which meant it was not ridiculous but powerful and raw and heart-wrenching. Tears welled up in my eyes as I recalled the first few months of my daughter’s life as I struggled with meeting her most basic need.
I am not going to attempt to quantify my experience, like how few ounces she took when she breastfed (remember that strange experience of weighing her before and after a feed?) or how many weeks (months?) I struggled with the concept of direct breastfeeding before I gave up and turned to exclusive pumping. I can’t remember the quantities and quite frankly I am glad that those meaningless numbers are lost in the memories of snuggling a sweet newborn baby. Because even as I struggled and tried (and cried, there were lots of tears) it didn’t completely take me over. It could have. There were days when it almost did. But what saved me, truly saved me, from becoming lost in the abyss of despair and failure, was the Fearless Formula Feeder website and forums. I discovered it early on and was reassured by the stories of women like me. This was somewhat normal. I was not alone.
In addition to online support I feel truly blessed to have escaped the judgment that I know others have felt or experienced while struggling with breastfeeding. All the judgment I felt came from within and from the books and classes I subjected myself to before I knew a damn thing about breastfeeding. I was lucky to have an amazing husband who did everything, absolutely everything, to support me and to feed our daughter and to tell me that whatever I wanted to do was ok with him. I had friends (and strangers) “come out” to me and talk about their struggles with supply and other breastfeeding difficulties. I found lactation consultants (from my healthcare provider to a very expensive by-the-hour consultant to the incredible FREE clinic at our local lactation consultant college) who did not make me feel like I was doing anything wrong, helped me to understand the perfect storm of low supply, high palette and weak suck that destroyed my hopes of breastfeeding and told me unequivocally that I was doing everything I possibly could to feed my daughter and that it did not matter how she got her nutrition as long as it came with my love. I was so vulnerable in those days, the idea that someone could have put the blame on me or convinced me that lying in bed all day breastfeeding every hour was the solution to my problems makes my skin crawl. It could very well have been what would have put me over the edge and I am so grateful it didn’t happen to me and so angry for the women it does happen to. Yes I ended a sentence with a preposition, just deal with it.
I started off my pregnancy thinking that I would have a completely natural childbirth and solely breastfeed. I live in Portland Oregon, for petesake, what else was I going to do? It turned out the baby was breech and after 3 weeks of trying to turn her (including an external version, spare yourself please!) she was born by c-section. That was the first brick to crumble in the tower I had built to “natural mothering”. The days in the hospital when it became obvious that her significant weight loss was going to require supplementation was salt in my wounds. I am so happy to say though with the gift of elapsed time that looking back on those times, I have a pricking of tears but mostly a feeling of bemusement. “Who was that crazed person buying drugs from the South Pacific online to increase breast milk supply?” I wonder. The memories of my sweet girl happily draining her bottle as I nuzzled the top of her head in awe and wonder prevail. And my hope is for anyone reading this who is still in the throes of guilt, fear, sadness and self-doubt will realize: this too shall pass. And faster than you ever think it will, and the memories that will remain will be the ones you want to keep.
I actually did end up pumping for six months. It became a triumph of sorts to document how much milk I produced for my girl. The over-the-internets drugs increased my supply. I always had to supplement with formula but it was a point of pride that the majority of her bottle feedings were composed of breastmilk. I attended moms groups in Portland and sweated a little every time I broke out the bottle but never had the misfortune to be overtly judged. I have never been much of an optimist but I was able to see the positives of bottle feeding vs. breast feeding: I felt like I had a lot more freedom to get out and about in those initial months as I could leave my baby with my husband, or even just break out a bottle in an environment where I probably would have had some struggles with breastfeeding. My parents were able to step in and help out and give us a date night very early (and a real vacation in month 8!). The best outcome of all is the intense bond between my husband and my daughter, and my trust in him as a parent. Only going off my own experience of speaking to other friends who exclusively breastfed, it seems to me that his ability to step in right from the very beginning and feed and soothe her was a bonus for her and for me (and maybe for him? I hope so!). Also, this mama started getting some good night’s sleep right away when he would take over for a night and I think that helped keep me sane.
I set the goal of pumping to six months when she was around three months. In some ways it got easier (I had the system DOWN) and in some ways it became harder as she was more mobile and didn’t want to wait around for me to finish pumping to play. Also I felt tethered to the house having to be there to pump every 3 hours (which is ridiculous by the way). I stretched my pumping gaps further and further and kept track of my supply and found that I could get away with 5-6 hours without affecting my supply (something no lactation consultant will tell you). I got up every night in the middle of the night (that is when the most milk comes, it is true!) to pump and let’s just say I got in my guilty pleasure tv shows during that time period! We had a family vacation planned in her seventh month so I started weaning with the intent of NOT TAKING A FREAKING PUMP TO MONTANA!! Weaning was actually the most emotionally difficult period for me after those initial months of trying to breastfeed. I had mood swings, thought I might finally be getting PPD and worst of all – morning sickness! I took 3 pregnancy tests before I accepted it was the hormonal changes caused by decreasing my pumping.
When I finally finished pumping (and I don’t even remember my last pump which I think is as it should be) I tossed my grungy pumping bra in the trash, said “hallelujah” and started buying formula in bulk and couponing. Now I look back on the days of tragedy over my boobs and I am incredulous. I do miss filling out my bras though, I remember the day I was in the shower and suddenly realized “oh, shit, I’m an A cup again”. I don’t mean to be flippant. Struggling with breastfeeding, when you are in it, is horrendous. It’s incredibly hard and makes you feel like a failure as a mother. I remember sitting in my rocking chair and bawling. But today, chasing a 10 month old around and feeding her avocado and sweet potato and hoping she’ll sleep through the night – it is a distant memory. And that is how it should be.